This unique program helps develop some of Commerce's most talented women.
Effective business leaders are often those who focus on the development of others. Commerce Bank has many leaders who fall into this category and are always looking for ways to support fellow team members.
However, as Commerce director of talent management Beth Feuring notes, sometimes leaders can get so focused on developing others that they don’t take enough time to advocate for themselves. “This can be particularly true for women,” she adds. “Not long ago, we felt as though we had a number of strong female leaders at Commerce who were highly visible in their own departments but weren’t as well known in other areas of the bank. We wanted to change that so when future opportunities arise, some of these very talented people are top of mind for consideration.”
As a result, the bank developed Women In Leadership, a unique 10-month program in which 20 outstanding performers and their managers worked together with an external professional development coach throughout 2022. “It was an opportunity for each participant to build a development plan that was tailored for herself, and work on that plan alongside her manager,” says Feuring. “The idea was to create a platform for some of our most talented people to really advocate for themselves. It’s a win-win for the participants and for the bank, because it takes this group of women who were already known, and it elevates their exposure. We want to provide talented team members the ability to find new and interesting opportunities in other departments so they can grow their capabilities in new ways.“
In addition to meeting with their coaches, the participants also met with each other.
“They created a coaching circle to network and talk about what was working for each of them, so they might learn from others’ experiences.”
The involvement of each participant’s manager — some of whom are members of Commerce’s executive management committee — was a significant element of the program. “They had to be present for each meeting with the coach,” says Feuring. “The managers had a coaching circle of their own, too. They were eager to do all of it. There was a lot of buy-in for this program.”
Amy Pieper, a senior vice president, participated in the program and found it to be a great experience. “I really enjoyed the opportunity, after almost 30 years in banking, to take a step back and think about the future,” she says. “It can be easy to get bogged down in day-to-day priorities and family responsibilities and not take a lot of time to focus on myself. This program helped me carve out that time, focus on my strengths, and identify where I want to be.”
Pieper appreciated the opportunity to work with her manager in a new way. “That was really interesting,” she says. “Usually when I meet with Scott [Boswell, a regional president and Pieper’s manager], it’s to talk strategy or working on a good solution for a client. It was interesting to carve out time to discuss my personal brand. It helped him understand the kind of work I want to do, and we made some adjustments to my team so I can focus more energy on the strategic-level work I really enjoy.”
Susan Kalist, a business banking division manager, also found the Women In Leadership program valuable. “My experience was incredible,” she says. “I’ve been through leadership development programs before, but this one was unlike any other. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to participate.”
Kalist says her coach helped her to not feel selfish about focusing on herself.
“That didn’t come naturally to me at first,” she says. “My nature is to promote other people and advocate for them. I enjoy being a servant leader, just like so many others at Commerce. My coach pushed me to look inward and find confidence in areas where I didn’t necessarily have it before.”
Tom Harmon, Commerce’s St. Louis market president and Kalist’s manager, was excited to be involved in the program. “Susan is already in a very high echelon of potential and performance, so the focus was to identify a few areas where we could really help her ascend even further and accelerate her rate of professional growth,” he says. “It was all about helping her enhance her abilities and raise her profile throughout the organization.”
Giving the participants exposure across all areas of the bank was a focal point for the program. One of the ways this was accomplished was through a capstone day at the end of the 10-month period, when each of the participants made presentations about themselves to the entire executive management committee. “It provided a showcase for them to discuss their strengths and the kinds of things they would like to work on in the future,” says Feuring.
“I really enjoyed the capstone day,” says Pieper. “We were all a little apprehensive about getting up in front of that group and talking about our strengths; it’s not natural for me to talk about myself in that way. But it was a lot of fun. Everyone was very engaged, and we got to talk about what we want to do and how we can positively impact the company and our clients. Those conversations have continued even after the conclusion of the program.”
Kalist also found the capstone day to be a positive experience. “Everyone on the executive management committee was invested,” she says. “Each of them wrote comment notes for us after our presentations. We also got comments from our managers and the other participants. Reading those later was such a great ending to the program. It made me think, ‘Wow, the leadership commitment and impact in this program was so inspiring.’"
The program was eye-opening for Harmon at times. “I learned that data shows men will ‘fake it until they make it,’ so to speak, whereas women will often wait until they believe they’re 99% qualified for a role before raising their hand for it. As a result, they sometimes miss out on opportunities where they might have really flourished. That was a new perspective for me, and I found it very helpful.” Harmon adds that he learned new managerial skills he’ll be able to use in the future. “I can apply those concepts to others who have high potential,” he says. “It will help me challenge and develop them so our talented people can grow.”
For the participants, the Women In Leadership program had a significant impact. “It helped me realize how much I enjoy being a mentor and helping people grow,” says Pieper.
“I had great role models throughout my career, and today I love helping people identify their strengths and find opportunities they enjoy. I knew I liked mentoring but I hadn’t focused on it as much as maybe I would prefer to, so now I’m getting involved in it a little more.”
Kalist says the program has changed her outlook. “One of the biggest changes for me was to limit my self-criticism and focus on the positives,” she says. “Tom and my coach both helped me with that process of discovery. I also don’t compare myself to others as much as I used to. I’m more focused on comparing what I’m doing to what I’m capable of doing. My competitive spirit is just as strong, but now it’s healthier. I give myself permission to put my personal spin on things.”
The program also provided the participants a great opportunity to get to know each other. “I knew about half of the 20 women in the group, and the other half I got to know through this program,” says Kalist. “What an amazing partnership and an amazing group. We all supported each other, and we were all in a different place at the end than we were at the beginning. That’s a group of colleagues I have a completely different relationship with now.”
Both Kalist and Pieper remain grateful to have been selected for the participation in the program, and they agree that its existence reflects well on the bank. “I think it’s really cool that Commerce invested in a program like this,” Pieper says. “They invested in a group of women to really drive our growth. A lot of time and resources went into it, and I think that says a lot about how the bank values its people.”
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